“I am not sure I should be here, meleth,” Legolas murmured. “This is a very obvious sort of place…”
“Love, it’s a feast, and we’re the guests of honour,” Gimli hissed in return. “Not like they can put us at a back-table by the kitchens!”
“But the high table, with the King?”
Gimli glanced over at Thorin Stonehelm, who was raising a toast to the massive assembly. A shout greeted his upraised tankard, and all drank with gusto. Gimli took a sip of his own cup, and wiped his moustache. “We’ll slip away afterwards, all right?”
“I look forward to that,” Legolas said, and glanced down at him with a promising sort of mischief in his eyes.
Gimli grinned back.
“I’d tell you to get a room, but considerin’ the circumstances it wouldn’t be the most politically sensitive thing to do,” said Gloin wryly, from beside Gimli. Legolas’ eyes flicked up, and apology crossed his face.
“I shall not interrupt again,” he said, meekly.
“Nah, everyone interrupts at these things, it’s customary,” Gloin said, waving a hand in dismissal. “We’re not a proper and prim lot. But if I was anything as bad as you two after I were wed, then I’m doubly amazed that nobody strangled me.”
Gimli snorted into his cup. “Da, if the stories are anything to go by? You were worse.”
Gloin harrumphed into his vast white beard. “Mind your manners, lad.”
“What happened to ‘not a proper and prim lot’?”
“You decided to get cheeky at your old Da, is what. Make sheep’s eyes later. Now’s time for feasting.”
The celebration continued: the one-year anniversary of the fall of Mordor and the end of the Ring War. Peace now reigned in the North, and every race benefitted from the closer ties that were being forged between their peoples. Representatives of Elves and Men were scattered throughout the massive Hall of Feasts, their lighter voices ringing over the deep booming shouts of the hundreds upon hundreds of Dwarves. Massive platters, piled high with roast meats and vegetables, fruits and pastries, were shuffled onto the tables by strong-backed young Dwarves. A couple of fiddle-players had been joined by an Elven flautist, and joyous music soared through the air.
“Didn’t think I’d live to see such things,” Gloin said, a little mistily. He ducked his head when he noticed Legolas’ curious expression.
Gimli shook his own head when Legolas turned his questioning look onto him.
“Don’t think I didn’t see that, Gimli,” Gloin said, and he snagged a bread-roll as the platter was marched past him. He looked up at Legolas again, his face guarded, before turning to his meal with a definite air of finality.
Legolas stifled a sigh. Gloin had not taken the news of their closer companionship well at first, to make something of an understatement. He had apparently resigned himself to it over the intervening year. Still, every so often he would grow close-mouthed, a calculating look in his old dark eye. He would also bark and grumble every time Legolas or Gimli grew affectionate with each other where he could see it.
All in all, not the most encouraging of fathers-in-law, Legolas thought. He turned to his own meal. There were uncooked greens: a concession towards the Elves in the gathering. Yet on Legolas’ plate was also a slice of the roasted beef as well as two potatoes. Knowing Gimli had definitely changed his palate.
It wasn’t just him, either: upon Gimli’s plate was a neat helping of the spring salad, as well as a shiny green apple.
Despite all the changes, it was not all harmony and comraderie under the Mountain. Attitudes died hard, and many Dwarves were still resentful of the Elves’ presence. Legolas always felt their stares between his shoulderblades when he visited his beloved’s homeland, following his every move with sullen dislike. None had ever confronted him, but the atmosphere was enough to set him slightly on edge, every time. No doubt Gimli felt much the same in Eryn Lasgalen.
And here he was, Legolas son of Thranduil, Prince of the Woodland Realm and husband to Gimli son of Gloin, sitting with the King at the High Table of Erebor for every disapproving eye to see.
Legolas was definitely looking forward to that ‘afterwards.’
The music grew louder and more boisterous at the end of the meal. As the tables were cleared, mighty barrels were rolled out to ring the Hall of Feasts and their spigots were unsealed. The tune rollicked, the musicians began to stamp together, and many Dwarves shouted in delight and rushed to dance.
Legolas watched in fascination. The dancing was so unlike anything he’d ever seen! Kicks and turns, leaping from a crouched position high in the air, spinning and slapping each other’s hands and their own thighs and stamping in incredibly complicated patterns! He leaned forward, his hands twitching to the beat.
Gimli laughed. “You and your music!”
“It’s wonderful!” Legolas shouted over the uproar. Many were whooping and hollering, the cries growing louder each time a Dwarf made a particularly spectacular leap.
“Did I ever tell you I was a dab hand at a circle-dance, love?” Gimli said, innocence in every line of his face.
“Oh?” Legolas grabbed his hand. “Then you will show me! Come, meleth nin, I wish to see you make those turning circles with your leg, and leap over it…”
Gimli’s laugh was uproarious as he was dragged to the circle by one very insistent Elf. Once there, he was whisked into the dance as though he had always been a part of it with not a step out of place. The fiddles crackled furiously, and the drums pounded, and they seemed to catch in his blood.
Legolas stood at the fringes and clapped with all his might as Gimli took the hands of another dwarf and they began to spin until they were able to leap with their legs flying out behind them. Their steps crossed over, and under – and leap! Legolas was enthralled. Such power and vigour and joy in it! Unlike and yet like, the delight in music and dance!
His turn complete for now, Gimli moved back out of the circle, clapping all the way to the beat. He was breathing hard as he looked up at Legolas, triumph in the glint of his eyes and the white flash of his teeth. “What did you think?”
“How did you do that heel-toe rhythm?” Legolas wanted to know at once. “And you did do the leap over your own leg! I wish to learn how to spin with you, the way that other Dwarf did. But first, the rhythm!”
“Peace, peace, I will show you!” Gimli chuckled. “A drink first, and I will explain on the way.”
“Is there wine?”
“Enough to quench the thirstiest and most questionsome Elf!”
“Never that!” Legolas laughed in return. Gimli took his hand and kissed it, before he pulled them back away from the dance-space towards their table.
The King was not there, but Gloin was still at his seat. Another old Dwarf was sitting with him, and they were arguing in raised voices. Legolas began to slow his pace, uncertain.
“Probably arguing over taxes, ignore it ghivashele,” Gimli said, unconcerned, and he continued his pace towards the High Table. Legolas, however, was firmly rooted to the spot.
“My ears are sharper than yours, beloved,” he said, low. “They do not argue over taxes.”
Gimli’s head whipped towards him, and his brows drew together. Then he nodded, and drew Legolas off to one side, beyond the throne. The bulky thing would shield them from the bickering pair.
“…a spectacle of himself!” spluttered the new Dwarf. Legolas chanced a look at his husband, but Gimli’s returning look was full of worry for Legolas himself, and not outrage. “A disgusting display. Are we to shame these halls where our kin fought and died for our safety – our freedom – from these parasitic Elves?”
“Considering that I was here and you were safe in Ered Luin at the time,” Gloin rumbled, his face thunderous, “that argument doesn’t hold a damn lick of water for me. Come out an’ say it instead of cloaking yourself in false concern for our halls, you bloody coward. Come out an’ say, I hate the elf an’I hate that your son married him.”
"You’ve said it for me, Gloin,” snarled the Dwarf. “Why bother?”
“You’re a scared, pathetic, hidebound old relic, Dren.”
“And you should be ashamed. Ashamed! Your own flesh, a son of the Line of Durin, and he willingly lies with that – that- ” Dren broke off, his face twisting in utter revulsion. “You should cut your hair and beard in disgrace. How does it feel to have fathered a traitor?”
Legolas’ breath caught, but Gimli’s expression did not change as he searched Legolas’ face. He squeezed Gimli’s hand, and was reassured by the quick squeeze in return. It appeared that his husband could not hear over the din.
Thank the stars for small mercies.
Gloin’s voice was icy. Thranduil upon his chilliest day could not have matched him. Legolas shivered, and Gimli’s hand tightened upon his once more. “The elves are our allies. A match between us is not a betrayal.”
“It’s a betrayal to all Dwarves everywhere,” Dren growled. “They’re faithless and feckless and useless, the whole bloody lot of them. They’re nothing and their words mean even less than that. Fine faces hiding foul hearts! Your son has been tricked into his bed by some spell…”
“Mahal strike me, did I sound as thick as you!?” Gloin finally erupted, and it was spectacular. He stood so swiftly that his chair fell back with an almighty clatter, and his carrying roar bounced from the walls. The music stopped with a harsh discord. Murmurs rose as all milled in confusion.
Dren shrank back from the sudden attention, but Gloin was in the full grip of his indignation now. “You disgust me, Dren, an’ it disgusts me that I might have ever spoken as you do now. Faithless? My son-in-law, faithless? You speak of one of the Nine Walkers, you witless old fool! He held to his oath all across bloody Middle-Earth! It’s in part thanks to him that we even have a hall to feast in!”
Dren stammered, and hunched into his coat as all the elves in the room straightened as one, all merriment fading from their eyes to be replaced by cold outrage.
Gloin, however, was not to be silenced. His rage carried through the massive chamber. “You dare accuse me of raising a traitor! You dare accuse Legolas of bespelling him! Have you eyes? Have you seen the way Legolas looks at my lad? He would walk into fire for Gimli, and Gimli for him! How many elves have risked their lives for love of a mortal, eh? What kind of devotion do think they have for each other, that Legolas would do that for my boy?”
Dren gulped, and low dwarven voices began to whisper. Glances were stolen at Gimli and Legolas, standing behind the throne, frozen to the spot.
“Definitely not taxes,” Gimli croaked.
“Definitely not,” Legolas agreed weakly.
“I’ll tell you who’s nothing, you piece of dross,” Gloin finished, his face berry-red and his white hair and beard wild. “Get out of my sight!”
Dren scurried away, fast as a river-rat into its burrow. There was some smattering of applause, and it was only then that Gloin seemed to realise that he had a captive audience. He straightened and began to smooth his hair down, his chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath.
He froze as Legolas appeared before him, hand in hand with Gimli. The Elf was nearly trembling with emotion, and his eyes were bright.
Gloin harrumphed, fussing with his beard some more. “Don’t think this means I like you, or anything,” he huffed, turning his face away. “You keep putting vegetables on our table an’ expecting me to eat ‘em. An’ you sing at unreasonable hours of the morning. There’s twigs in our bathroom, for Durin’s sake.”
Then his face softened. “And you’re too tall for a decent hug, and you need too many good meals... an’ you love my boy more than the whole world.”
Legolas smiled. “The politically sensitive thing to do would be to try for a hug regardless?”
Gloin’s nose wrinkled. “Ach! And you’re just as cheeky as my blasted son. No wonder.”